A 180 Degree Turn!
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
There were two issues raised by the AIPAC decision not to press ahead with lobbying the Senate that it should follow the House and pass the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act. It would have thus sought to ratchet up the sanctions against Iran and force the President to carry through with his threat to veto the bill. Had Obama done so, it would have put many Democratic, pro-Israel Senators (and House Members) in a direct battle with their President. It would have forced a direct confrontation as to who was more pro-Israel. Such a strategy also would have placed AIPAC in a clearly partisan position, something it historically has sought to avoid at all costs.
Since AIPAC knew this scenario was likely all along, why did it pursue the resolution so aggressively and apply their lobbying of the Senate so intensively, particularly the Foreign Relations Committee Chair Senator Robert Menendez? How did the matter suddenly turn around? How did AIPAC get caught with so much egg on its face?
What was behind the turnaround will be discussed here, but what the implications are will be discussed subsequently. In this case, both the Israelis and AIPAC knew that they would most likely lose a showdown with the White House on a veto override; that it would make Obama and the Democrats look foolish; and that the Israelis would leave their American advocates and do their own private bidding. All of this left AIPAC stuck pulling out the plug, alone, on its lobbying effort.
Last week, AIPAC announced that Bibi would be attending, in person, the AIPAC policy conference in Washington at the beginning of March. Presumably the Prime Minister wants a meeting with the President as well, especially in light of a forthcoming scheduled meeting between Obama and the Saudis. It is likely that in light of all the hostility that has poured out of Jerusalem against Secretary Kerry and the Administration concerning its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian talks, Washington told Bibi to call off the lobbying effort on the Iran bill until the six month interval has passed; or the President may not be available for an oval office meeting. (Such a meeting in addition to the international implications is important to Bibi to demonstrate his muscle to his coalition partners.) In addition, there may have been some discussion, perhaps still underway; concerning a possible Obama appearance at the AIPAC conference, assuming the lobbying is dropped.
There clearly was more to the sudden turnaround after Menendez’ floor speech on Thursday plus the timing of the AIPAC announcement—mid-afternoon on a Friday when Congress is already in weekend mode. The speculation as to why this all happened will be matched over the coming days by the frustration which will be directed at the Israelis by American Jews of all perspectives.